Harry here. I don’t know why it took so long, but Uber Select is finally in San Francisco. And even though it’s only been a couple weeks, drivers are already learning the ropes and seeing just how much they can make.
Fortunately, RSG contributor, Christian Perea, happens to have an Uber Select eligible vehicle and in today’s article, he recaps his first week driving for Uber Select. Christian also breaks down his earnings, how Select compares with his normal routine on Lyft, and tells us a little about the types of passengers he dealt with all week on Select.
Last week Uber rolled out its Uber Select option in San Francisco. As a proud idiot that purchased a 2011 C-Class 4-matic about a year ago to drive mostly Lyft, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Uber was willing to finally reward me for my poor financial decisions. I immediately went down to the Uber DMV to setup my Select account and made sure (with the guy in the Uber t-shirt) that I would ONLY be eligible for select calls.
Related Video: How To Accept Only Uber Select Calls
For the uninitiated, Uber Select (formerly known as Uber Plus) is an option that is a middle-ground product between Uber Black and UberX. So it’s basically the ability to call an UberX that is an entry level luxury car like a BMW 3-series or a Mercedes C-Class. The fares in San Francisco are currently at $2.75/mile, $0.50/minute, and a $10 minimum fare. It’s basically twice as much as an UberX. Uber also takes 30% commission on these fares because I guess they can.
To start, I wasn’t sure how the product was supposed to work. Was I supposed to dress up? Hold the door open for people? Would I need to have my car waxed and polished everyday? Was it meant to be more of an Uber Black service or an UberX service?
I erred on the side of caution, so I bought some water bottles, wore a suit jacket over my Social D T-shirt (I figured nobody would see me long enough to notice), and got the phone chargers and aux cords out. It was kind of like my first day on the road again.
Related Article: My First Week As A Lyft Driver
The first ride I got was a Select request at 2.6x Surge from the Financial District to Berkeley. The passenger was rated at 4.7 but I figured Uber pax tend to be rated lower so I accepted. Turns out the passenger was a nice young professional working with the public defenders office in SF and that her colleague had called the ride.
I held the door open, offered water and generally tried to provide the best service I could since 2.6 x $2.75/mile is about $7/mile. I completed the trip and found that it was $93 dollars. After Uber’s take, I got around $63. My initial thoughts were 1) Why the hell would someone pay this much? and 2) $63 was about twice as much as a standard Lyft fare from SF to Berkeley after Uber’s 30% cut. For those who choose to accept Select and X calls, Uber will only take 20% from your Select fares. For now.
I ended up driving back to SF on Uber Select thinking I was going to make a killing for the rest of the week.
The next call that came in was from a drunken male who had accidentally ordered a Select. He went a few blocks and the fare was $14 and some change. I got $9 of it. Damn that 30% stings.
At this point, I waited around for some more Select calls in the financial district near the fancier wine bars and restaurants, hotels, etc. Something akin to a vague Black Car strategy. After about an hour without a call, I was getting bored and didn’t feel like putting on whatever poor attempt of a classy image I could muster. I traded the suit-jacket for my hoodie, switched over to Lyft and spent the rest of the night driving around the city with my windows down while unabated by traffic. It wasn’t bad.
After spending 3 hours in Uber Select on a Wednesday night, I had made around $75 between two rides.
More Downtime. Bigger Fish. Less Efficiency.
As I dedicated some more time to Uber Select over the next few days, I began to notice that it involved greater downtime and slightly lower hourly gross income. There certainly wasn’t anything near the volume that I would get on UberX or Lyft. That being said, my hourly earnings ended up being about the same or slightly higher. I was doing less work for a similar amount of money.
Every few hours I would get a larger ride totaling between $40 and $60 dollars with most of the rides being short to mid jaunts bringing in $15 to $25 per ride after Uber’s 30% cut.
Pickup times and distances were noticeably longer with fewer Select vehicles around to cater to passengers. This also resulted in a higher cancellation rate by the passenger than normal. It was similar to driving for Uber two years ago on UberX, actually.
For the week, I ended up spending 8.5 hours online for Uber Select while completing only 15 rides and earning $310. When all was said and done, I netted $36/hour after Uber’s 30% cut.
Meanwhile, I earned about the same on Lyft that week for $328. However it took 26 rides to get there and 15 hours of driving.
For all the talk about lowered fares and increased saturation of drivers over the last two years, I could see some of the finer points of the argument for using lower fares to generate more volume and thus a greater efficiency between pickups and dropoffs. I could also see how the higher volume of calls had resulted in a higher percentage of utilization hour over hour.
Thing is, I was doing a lot less work and not spending time frantically traversing the city from call to call to earn about the same amount of money. Again, it seemed a lot like driving when I first started.
Select and Surge Pricing
I got a surprising number of Select rides on surge. These rides offer excellent returns for less work. In fact, they return insane earnings. Most of them were shorter distances rides but I found that I was getting about $20 each time I did a short ride on surge pricing. The first ride to Berkeley was a 2.6x surge that netted me $63 for an hours worth of work. My point is, if you can catch a Select ride on surge pricing, it’s definitely going to be worth your time.
The Uber Select Crowd
My passengers seemed to fall into two categories: upper-class fancy people and UberX males looking to impress their peers (and by peers, we mean women).
The upper-class fancy passengers were generally nice, polite, and many were testing out the service as a cheaper yet classy alternative to Uber Black. A lot of them were leaving fine dining establishments or luxury hotels like the Ritz Carlton. For the most part, these passengers were respectful, quiet, and nice. I figured I could dress up for this crowd. They seemed to have tremendously more patience than a lot of my UberX passengers.
I found it odd that when people paid more for a ride they seemed to value it more. Even when I drive some passengers for $6, they tend to complain about how the price went up a dollar. Instead, a few of the people in the fancier crowd offered more realistic interpretations of what it actually costs to operate a vehicle for hire in the city. A sort of mature financial attitude for running a business.
Here’s an example: a middle-aged couple entered my car from a nice restaurant after dinner and a few drinks. They had not entered the address to the Ritz Carlton, and the wife begins to provide directions. The husband interrupts with;
“He does this for a living…he knows where it is…”
I interpreted this as respect for my current profession. A sort of trust that I knew what I was doing. I respond with “Yup, left to Bush, lights sync at 30 mph, left on Stockton. Entrance to hotel occurs after the bumps in road created by tree roots.” We end up having a civil conversation on the pros and cons of drivers being employees since many drivers were on strike. The remainder of the ride they spoke quietly about their night. I could get used to this.
Now let me contrast this with the other crowd, which I will call the “ballin’ on a budget” crowd. This crowd for the most part was the typical Saturday night party crowd. Just young adults with some extra cash to spend on a nicer ride for the night.
There was definitely a theme of guys ordering a fancy car when trying to get a girl to go home with them. Others were a bit more rowdy than the UberX crowd but overall still fun. It’s easier to put up with craziness when you feel you are being compensated fairly to transport them.
However, a subset of the “ballin’ on a budget” kids were pretty terrible. These folks were your typical horrible UberX passengers but with an extra load of entitlement since they were ordering the more expensive option. The worst of these was (of course) in the Marina (SF’s bro-center of town). For whatever reason, I had four occasions where passengers tried to overload my car on the Saturday night I drove Select. For comparison’s sake, I usually only have one passenger attempt this a week on UberX or Lyft.
I pulled up and a tallish late-twenties dude comes out of a wine-bar. Dressed in khaki pants, plaid tucked-in dress shirt, and a sweater around his neck like the poor man’s version of New England’s Tom Brady. Or an attempt to capture the essence of a drunk Kennedy after hitting a cyclist. He approached the car and looks down at me while using an entitled and commanding drunk tone.
He looks at me harder. Something akin to a baby that has just had its favorite toy yanked from its hand, trying to comprehend what “No” means. He repeats:
“Four. Why don’t you cancel this and call an UberXL buddy…”
“What is the point of calling this expensive f**king Uber if I can’t take six??”
“There is none. Why don’t you cancel?”
I proceed to go through the speech of how I don’t make the laws but I have to follow them and that his “guarantee” of a fat tip to break the law means absolutely nothing to me.
“No, you’re already here. I’ll just have the other two call another one.”
Now at this point, I should have canceled and told the guy to “p**s-off” but for some reason I drove him and his friends. The car was packed. He was whiny and entitled. His girlfriend apologized for his behavior the entire ride. The next day my rating (predictably) dropped.
Uber Select seemed to be busiest on the weekends and during times when people would go out. I don’t know if there is even enough volume on it in SF to develop a solid strategy yet, but I gave it a shot. When all was said and done, I earned anywhere from as low as $15 per hour to $60 per hour. I found that the volume was just not there for Uber Select yet to justify driving for a whole week on the platform.
On Saturday, I earned $250 between 7PM and 3AM. That may seem like a lot of money, but I couldn’t help but think how it’s really not that much more than, say, driving for Lyft on a Saturday for me. Uber’s 30% cut made a pretty significant impact even though the fares were twice as much as UberX. Since I tend to hit Lyft’s Power Driver Bonus each week, this means that for the most part Uber Select paid about 50% more than what I would make on a typical Lyft in SF. However, on Select, I would conduct far fewer rides.
Overall, I think it is a nice option to cater to a different sort of driving strategy. Perhaps it’s most useful on days where I don’t want to drive so much through the streets or as a means of getting higher fares when the market is saturated with drivers on X and Lyft.
I would by no means suggest that anybody go out and buy a new C-Class or 3-Series to do Select in San Francisco. But if you already have one, it provides a nice alternative and a way to switch things up a bit from X and Lyft. As for now, the demand is still too unpredictable and stagnant to justify doing Select full-time, but it’s only been one weekend.
If you’d like to read more about Uber Select, please read the following:
Drivers, what do you think about my first week on the road as Uber Select driver in San Francisco? Do you drive for Select or have you thought about doing it in your city? And have you noticed a big difference between Select and UberX or even Lyft passengers?
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-Christian @ RSG
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